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a heap of details, uncatalogued, illogical

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A serious man who devised complex systems of numbers and rhymes
to aid him in remembering, a man who forgot nothing, my father
would be ashamed of me.
Not because I'm forgetful,
but because there is no order
to my memory, a heap
of details, uncatalogued, illogical.

Mnemonic
Li-Young Lee

 


 

Kakashi wakes up to the smell of antiseptic and death, eye cracked open slightly. The light sends shooting pains in his head, thunderbolts ricocheting violently in the tiny confines of his skull and reminding his stomach that he needs a bucket now. It takes all of his strength to roll over onto his side-- he’s survived through a war and a demon attack, it would only be sad and pathetic if he ended up dying by choking on his own vomit.

“Easy there, sensei--”

A pair of strong hands hoists him up easily and a bin is quickly shoved into his lap. Kakashi ignores the strange voice and pulls down his tattered mask. He throws up quickly and efficiently, a remnant of the war. There were many rotting corpses and many enemy ninja waiting for the chance to gut a distracted soldier. Even vomiting became routine and regulated.

Kakashi waits a moment after his last dry heave and then pulls his mask back up. The light isn’t as blinding now and he rubs his eye, clearing the last bits of gunk. When he blinks, the wavering lines straighten and the walls of a hospital room come into sharp focus, yellow paint bleached by the long exposure to the sun. Kakashi blinks again, taking into account the well-worn cot he’s lying in, the waxed tile floors. They’re patterned blue and white, with faint black scuff marks from years of use.

“Are you thirsty?”

Kakshi turns to the side, watching the medic who is binning the basin in a biohazard container, snapping her gloves off in a smooth and practiced manner.

“Yes,” Kakashi says, voice rough and cracking.

She looks at him apologetically, squeezing hand sanitizer into her hand. “Sorry, but since water will just make you throw up more, we’re just going to have stick with ice chips and saline bags for now. And only if you behave and don’t down all of them in one go!”

“Yes, medic-san,” Kakashi says obediently. The medic’s smile falls, like she was expecting a different response.

“Y-you don’t know who I am, do you?”

Kakashi watches her brow furrow, her dark green eyes widening and turning a little watery.”No,” he says quietly.

“Oh,” she says, white hands clenched into tight fists. “I’m-- I was your student. Haruno Sakura.”

Kakashi tilts his head, gray eye analyzing her carefully for tells. He finds nothing. “I’ve never seen you before in my life,” he says flatly.

 


 

The Hokage is dead.

“I know this an extremely unusual set of circumstances, but I believe that it is reversible. I have the best members of my Sealing Corps on this issue.”

The Hokage is dead.

“Kakashi.” The Princess raises a delicate golden brow. “Are you following along?”

“I am, apparently, a younger version of my thirty year old self, a genjutsu trick that blocks out all memories in my mind past the age of fourteen and casts an illusion on my body to make it appear my-- my mental age as of this moment,” Kakashi recites, voice stony. “It was activated by the interaction of my Sharingan and a mystical sealing scroll while in the field, protecting a temple from attack.”

“So you were listening,” Tsunade-sama nods, looking satisfied. “Don’t fret, I have my best minds on this, you’ll be free of it in no time. Until then, you’ve been placed on the inactive duty roster. Yamato here--” Tsunade gestures at the strange-looking man standing obediently near the doorway, who salutes at her mention. “--he’ll be your guide in the meantime.” She crosses her legs, leaning back into the wooden hospital chair. “Any questions?”

“What happened to the Hokage?” Kakashi demands, fingers automatically curling as if they were wrapped around the handle of a kunai. “Why is it you?”

Tsunade’s brown eyes widen a fraction. “Of course, you wouldn’t remember. Tell me, what is the last date you can recall?”

“April 6th, the first year of the Sandaime’s second reign,” Kakashi says automatically. “Six months after the attack, more or less.”

“Sarutobi-sensei died fighting Orochimaru over three years ago,” Tsunade says, arms crossed over her chest. “I was appointed his successor not long after.”

First Minato-sensei and now the Sandaime. Logically, Kakashi knows that no man is infallible. The Sandaime had been old when Kakashi was born and even older still when he had retired and positively ancient when he had taken the mantle up again after Minato-sensei’s death. It should be no surprise that he had-- died.

“Next you’ll be telling me Jiraiya is dead,” Kakashi says bitterly, picking at the stray threads of his hospital-issue blanket.

Tsunade goes still.

“Oh,” Kakashi says.

Tsunade leaves after that, when the silence between the two of them grows until it becomes suffocating, the Yamato fellow hovering anxiously around the doorway, looking back and forth at Kakashi on the bed and the Princess’s back in the hallway. Kakashi makes the decision for the man and curls up on his side, closing his eyes. It’s only when Kakashi has faked a slow, steady breathing for a full five minutes that Yamato makes the decision to leave, closing the hospital door behind him, distinctive chakra signature floating down the hallway after Tsunade.

Kakashi sits up carefully and takes stock of his situation.

One Sharingan. (He’d checked right before Tsunade’s visit and had never been more grateful for Obito’s familiar presence.) Low chakra reserves but otherwise negligible physical injuries. Hospital-issue gown and tattered ANBU blacks underneath. The mask is barely held together by fraying threads and Kakashi tears it off, replacing it with a surgical mask he finds in the cabinet above the room sink. Hospital socks, with the rubber coating on the bottom to stop him from slipping on the waxed floor. Forehead protector, which he ties on. It’s a good, heavy weight.

He finds a battered orange book lying next to his forehead protector on the bedside table: Icha Icha Paradise. He flips through the pages and on the title page, someone has scrawled a nigh unreadable note.

Kakashi would recognize Jiraiya’s handwriting anywhere.

Thought you might enjoy this during one of your hospital stays. Keep breathing and I’ll see what I can do about sequels. Happy birthday, kid.

Jiraiya’s signature takes up nearly half the page, followed by a small date. Sep 15, Sandaime 6. The sixth year of the Sandaime’s reign. A quick flip to the copyright page in the book confirms it. It’s well-worn, the pages dog-eared and the hard covers have been scored with blades and in one spot, chewed enthusiastically by a small animal. His-- his older self must have read it a lot. Kakashi swallows past the lump in his throat.

It’s too big to slide into his sock, so he rips a hospital sheet in half and turns it into a makeshift satchel with strips of hospital blanket to hold it all together. It’s too loose to hang off his hips so Kakashi sling it over his shoulder and across his back. Further investigation of the room reveals a few disposable scalpels that he does tuck into his sock, a rusty old shuriken that is too dull to be of any use and lots of mysterious disposable plastic objects with strange medical names. Kakashi briefly debates the use of oxygen tubing as an effective garrote but abandons the idea when he feels the nurses’ chakra signatures starting to circulate down the hallway. He’s wasted too much time.

The window needs just a touch of chakra-enhanced strength to budge open and the gust of fresh air feels delicious, carrying the familiar scents of Konoha, mixed liberally with pollen. Kakashi sneezes. So it is spring here like it is back home in--

Kakashi leaps out the window and does not think of anything else but the fifty foot drop between him and ground.

 


 

“I should have known you were going to end up here.”

Kakashi tilts his head but otherwise doesn’t bother to acknowledge the man --Yamato a voice in the back of his mind helpfully supplies-- who flickered beside him. There are a lot more names on the Stone now. Kakashi wonders what they’ll do when they run out of space. Build a new one? Make the old one bigger? There’s only a row or two of empty space; Kakashi finds Obito and Rin’s names out of habit and to his surprise, they’re well-worn and weathered, instead of freshly engraved.

Of course. Sixteen years is a long time, Kakashi thinks. There’s many more names he vaguely recognizes in the vast sea of carved stone and a few that he knows very, very well to be alive. Or they were. They’re dead now. Here.

“Kakashi-senpai--”

“I’m not your senpai,” Kakashi says sharply, palming a scalpel.

“Of-- of course,” Yamato bows his head respectfully. Kakashi can’t bear looking at him, not when he looks at Kakashi like he knows him, not when he looks at Kakashi as if he’s searching for something, something that isn’t there.

“Tell me about Sarutobi Asuma,” Kakashi says.

A brief hesitation. “I didn’t know him very well,” Yamato says slowly. “But he died fighting a little over a year ago. I’m told he was very brave.”

Kakashi cannot imagine the skinny, lanky kid with a scruffy half-grown beard dying bravely. When Kakashi had last seen him, he’d been trying to pick up smoking and failing miserably, coughing up a storm out in front of the chuunin headquarters, sucking stubbornly on his cigarette. With the Sandaime and his wife Biwa-sama and now Asuma gone, Kakashi wonders if there are even any Sarutobi left in the village.

Sixteen years is a long time, Kakashi thinks again.

“I think it’s best if you come back--”

Yamato steps closer and Kakashi whips his head around, nose nearly grazing the front of Yamato’s flak vest. Yamato freezes, giving Kakashi enough time to press the thin blade of the scalpel against the other man’s inner thigh. If he presses hard enough at the right angle, he’ll easily hit the femoral artery.

“You’re shorter than me,” Yamato says, dark eyes wide with surprise and Kakashi blinks.

“Of course I’m shorter,” Kakashi says, suppressing the urge to roll his eye. He’s always been shorter than everyone. Price of being a genius.

“No, I mean--” Yamato flushes a little. “You’ve always been taller than me,” he explains, rubbing the back of his neck a little sheepishly. “For as long as I’ve known you.” He almost doesn’t seem to notice the blade at all. Kakashi reevaluates Yamato’s stance, noting the almost casual way he’s angled away from the scalpel. Notice, yes, but strangely, he doesn’t seem too bothered.

Kakashi opens his mouth to ask him more about how long Yamato really has known him, but the words never leave his mouth. Kakashi notices the arm Yamato has around him just a second too late and he feels the familiar translocation jutsu hooking itself right behind his bellybutton, spiriting him off into the great unknown.

He doesn’t like this Yamato fellow very much, Kakashi thinks sourly.

 


 

It rushes at him, a cannonball of bright orange energy, tainted with a chakra that Kakashi dreams about in his darkest nightmares. He acts automatically, using its own momentum to drive it over his head and slams his fist against its chest hard enough that he can hear the crack of bone breaking. Another chakra presence flickers behind him, faint but agitated and Kakashi throws a scalpel behind him, briefly halting it in its place. He palms the last one in his left hand and settles into a crouch, already drawing up the dregs of his chakra to gather in his right, ready to--

“Kakashi-sensei!”

Kakashi blinks, momentarily disoriented. He’s not a sensei.

Yamato’s hand clamps down hard against his shoulder and Kakashi feels sorely tempted to drive his last scalpel right into it. The pink haired medic from before is standing in front of him, hands covering her mouth in a horrified gesture. He blinks again, matching the voice to the face. So she had been the one to scream his name.

“Kakashi-senpai,” Yamato says in a strained voice. “These are your students, not enemy ninja. Please drop your blade.”

“I don’t have students and I’m not your senpai,” Kakashi spits out irritably but he does put the scalpel away. Yamato’s hand tightens and then withdraws. The girl flinches a little at his words, but she doesn’t say anything, instead bending down to check on the blond haired boy lying on the floor, hands glowing green with healing chakra.

“Welcome home sensei,” a voice says sardonically behind them and Kakashi turns around. A dark eyed Uchiha defiantly meets his eye, pulling a scalpel out of his shoulder. He throws it down onto the floor, dark red blood splattering all over the hardwood floor.

 


 

Kakashi strips down to his bare feet, shedding his ANBU blacks and balling it up with the stupid hospital gown, throwing it into the the far corner of the room. His room. Kakashi pushes all thought of that aside and digs through the drawers, looking for clean underwear. All the boxers he pulls out are too big on his hips, but there’s a couple of balled up briefs in the corner that look like they might fit. Kakashi pulls out a pair, washed out black patterned with little red shuriken. They look old and worn out from too many washings.

It’s his underwear, technically, but Kakashi doesn’t know how to feel about sharing underwear with this thirty year old Hatake Kakashi-sensei-senpai. In the end, practicality wins out and Kakashi also digs out a pair of worn jounin blues from the bottom of a drawer that he cinches tight at the waist with some spare wire. Some more investigation reveals ANBU blacks that he pulls on, thankful for the tight fit, and a whole drawer just filled with plain black masks.

He hesitates a little before the row of flak vests hanging in his closet. He’d never really worn one-- they didn’t have one in his size when he graduated and during the war, they were all issued standard metal-plate armor that he’d taken to wearing during the tail end, when he’d grown enough to fit the smaller sizes. And now he wears the ANBU armor, smooth silk and steel molded specifically for his body. But his older self wore the vests. He pulls one out, measuring the breadth of the shoulder with his hands and the space from collarbone to hips.

He was big. Bigger than Kakashi right now, taller and broader. Older. Kakashi wonders how he holds up to being called sensei and senpai. Tries to imagine himself bigger, taller and broader. Sensei to those kids, senpai to Yamato, regular jounin of Konoha, loyal servant of Tsunade. He can’t.

Kakashi puts the vest away and digs around in the closet for something else instead. He finds a locked box (he picks it easily) filled with old ANBU issue armor and several masks --his Hound mask!-- cracked beyond repair. They’re old, some spattered with old blood, and don’t look like they’ve been touched in a while. A long while, judging by the dust and the smell of stale air. This too, he puts away.

In the very back of the closet, he finds a few boxes labeled REALLY OLD STUFF in his handwriting and drags it out into the room. From inside, he pulls out an old knit sweater with whirlpools and narutomaki dancing around on the front-- with a start, Kakashi recognizes it as the sweater he wore last winter. Kushina had knit it for him a few years ago right before a big mission to Snow Country.

It looks old, stretched out and faded by the long years. Kakashi buries his nose in it, smelling mothballs and a tiny hint of wet dog.

“--he’s just-- can we trust--”

“I know….strange...but--”

Kakashi makes his silent way to the door, pressing his ear against the wood. He instinctively funnels a little chakra to his ears, voice becoming much clearer.

“He almost crushed Naruto’s ribcage in half!”

That was the pink medic talking, and the ribcage one-- that must have been the one who charged at him like an idiot when Yamato had translocated in. Naruto. Kakashi swallows and focuses harder.

“He’s lucky that Naruto can heal so fast otherwise--”

“I’m fine, Sakura-chan, jeez! It was just a friendly punch!” Naruto’s voice is too loud and it grates on Kakashi’s ears. “I’ll totally kick his head in next time as payback and maybe Rasengan him for making us worry so much.”

“Like you can, dead-last.” The angry Uchiha, this time. Then Naruto shoots back something about stiff bastards and the two of them devolve into a squabbling mess and Kakashi rolls his eye several times in the privacy of his own room. Stupid kids. Soon enough there is the sound of furniture scraping on the floor and the pink one --Haruno Sakura-- starts yelling again, her chakra flaring like a bright beacon.

Kakashi wrinkles his nose. They’re really noisy students.

“Alright, alright settle down everyone,” Yamato finally says, clapping his hands together. “You’ve heard this from Tsunade already. Kakashi’s in a delicate mental state right now--”

Delicate! Kakashi holds back a snort.

“--and you should all be reminded that he doesn’t remember any of us right now. Any ninja would be thrown off balance.”

“He doesn’t remember you at all?” A new voice, this time. Kakashi frowns, focusing on the chakra signature. It’s tightly controlled, a tiny spark next to Naruto’s blazing maelstrom, easily overlooked.

“No, I met Kakashi-senpai when he was a little older,” Yamato says after a pause. “I was seventeen when I joined, so-- I believe when Kakashi-senpai was twenty.”

A three year gap between the two of them. Kakashi tilts his head. And at least six years in ANBU.

“You knew Kakashi-sensei for that long?” Naruto asks eagerly. “Did you ever see his face, did you did you did you?”

“Oh Naruto, don’t be silly,” Sakura scoffs, but then asks a little hesitantly, “Does he really have fish lips?”

“Uh, you know, Kakashi-senpai’s been an awful long time in his room, maybe we should go look for him--”

Kakashi swiftly opens the door and stalks out, keeping his face as blank as possible. He pats the kunai holster at his hip and makes his way over to the table, where Sakura, Yamato and another dark haired boy are sitting. Naruto and Sasuke are relegated to the floor after, presumably, fighting for a chair and wearing Sakura’s patience thin.

“Kakashi-sen--san,” Sakura recovers quickly, smile just a touch too bright. “How are you feeling? You gave the nurse a scare when she found your room empty.” Her smile hardens.

Kakashi swallows, unease prickling his spine. “I needed some air,” he shrugs and settles into stool in the corner of the room, back to the wall, with line of sight to at least three different exit points. They all stare at him, eyes hungrily tracking his every movement, searching for something just like Yamato did at the Stone.

Kakashi deliberately looks away and out the window. It has a nice view of the Mountain. His stomach coils tightly in his stomach as he looks down at five completed faces and--

“Is that a scar?” he asks abruptly. At their confused faces he elaborates, “On the Sandaime’s face.”

“Oh that,” Naruto laughs. “On the old man’s nose? Happened a while back, during the first Invasion, I think.”

Invasion. Kakashi’s body stills. Were the Walls breached? “Orochimaru,” the dark haired boy says, face even paler than an Uchiha’s. “He invaded a few years back.”

So that must have been when the Sandaime-- when he passed. Kakashi jerked his gaze away from his massive stone face to the Yondaime’s, which was finally completed, hair not half as spiky and gravity defying as the original. Work is still progressing, as far as he can personally recall.

“You are small,” the dark haired boy observes in his flat, monotone voice. It gets on Kakashi’s nerves. “And you have an interesting choice in clothing that differs from Kakashi-san.”

“Hey, hey are those narutomaki?!” Naruto says excitedly, jumping up and shoving his face right into Kakashi’s personal space.

“Um,” Kakashi says.

“I love ramen,” Naruto says very seriously. “Did you make this awesome sweater Kakashi-sensei?”

He has bright hair and blue eyes just like Minato-sensei and acts just like Kushina. He thinks of the tiny little baby with whiskers in the orphanage, pitifully small and weak. He looks up at Naruto, who towers over him, shoulders broad and skin dark from long hours in the sun.

“No,” Kakashi says, a little dazed. “It was a gift from someone.”

“Hey, hey do you think you can ask them to make me one then?” His eyes are bigger, wider but the color is just the same.

Kakashi had forgotten how vibrant they were and hates himself a little for forgetting so soon, in the six months that have passed since Minato-sensei’s sacrifice. “They’re dead,” Kakashi says, hating Naruto even more for reminding him.

“Oh.” Naruto draws back and Sakura gives him a sympathetic look, mouthing something that Kakashi doesn’t care to lip read. Angry Uchiha just snorts again, tossing his hair.

“So, what about dinner!” Yamato says brightly.

 


 

It takes a summoning scroll and a soldier pill, but soon Kakashi is surrounded by a familiar swarm of dogs, cold black noses snuffling eagerly at his hands for treats and climbing all over him in a frenzy.

“Did you shrink or something?”

Kakashi buries his nose in Pakkun’s warm fur and laughs a little hoarsely. “Or something,” he says, and lets his dogs jump all over him, licking reassuringly at his face and hands. They pile onto the bed (he rather likes the shuriken quilt) and curl up into a giant mess of shedding fur and wagging tails, one dog’s butt (probably Hiro’s) planted right on his forehead. It’s the safest Kakashi’s felt since he woke up in this strange new world.

“You smell different,” Pakkun says after a long while, just when Kakashi’s just about drift into sleep.

“Mhmm,” Kakashi mutters.

“You should trust them,” Pakkun snuffles, paw digging uncomfortably into Kakashi’s collarbone. The old dog (and Kakashi has noticed a fine sprinkle of gray on the dog’s muzzle and it hits him like a chidori to the heart, because here his dog is growing old and Kakashi cannot remember any of it--) has claimed the prime position of Kakashi’s chest and rules the pack from his bony throne.

“Trust who?” Kakashi asks, sleep slurring his words.

“Your kids,” Pakkun says seriously. “Tenzou, Naruto, Sakura, Sasuke, even the new one, what’s his name, Sai.”

“Don’t know a Tenzou,” Kakashi says.

“Oh yeah, I keep forgetting, that boy goes through more names than Ino has boyfriends every month. Yamato or summat like that, right?”

He doesn’t know an Ino either but that hardly seems relevant to the situation. “I don’t know any of them and everyone I know is dead here.”

Pakkun burps right in Kakashi’s nose, a touch reprovingly. “You’re acting like a whiny puppy.”

It smells like death and moldy old socks. Kakashi cracks his eye open to glare down at his dog. “You’ve been eating cheese again. It’s the only thing that makes your breath that rank.”

“Stop changing the subject,” Pakkun says sternly. “You know me and I’m giving you some sound advice here. Trust the people here. They’re not your friends for nothing, you know. You picked them yourself.”

Kakashi thinks of the vest, nearly two handspans broader at the shoulder and one and a half longer from hip to collarbone. “You mean older me did. That’s not the same.”

“Sure, yeah, older you knows how to treat a dog better,” Pakkun grumbles. “And he’s a lot more respectful. Calls me Pakkun-sama and everything.”

Kakashi can’t help the tiny laugh. “Shut up.”

“See what I mean?” Pakkun curls up into a smaller ball, body rising and falling with every breath. “This disrespect I never would’ve gotten from him.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Kakashi says and pulls a hand free from under a sleeping dog to scratch Pakkun’s ears. The dog grunts in pleasure and bumps his head affectionately against Kakashi’s hand.

“Now go to bed.”

“You’re the one who woke me in the first place!”

Pakkun growls. “Are you gonna listen to me or not?”

“Yes, Pakkun-sama,” Kakashi says obediently, burying his laughter in Pakkun’s fur.

“Smartass,” Pakkun says fondly and they fall asleep listening to the gentle lullaby of a pack of snoring dogs.

 


 

Kakashi spends the next three days learning about all the different traps his older self had set on his flat. Most of them respond to his chakra signature, but a few other he triggers accidentally (once, in a rather embarrassing manner, on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night) and he resets them, studying the way they were designed.

They’re very good and Kakashi feels a strange sort of pride in them. Then he feels the twinge of a kunai cut on his hand (laced with Akimido poisoning, which he thankfully has immunity to) and mostly tries to forget that these are the trap that he set. For meals, he heats up instant ramen noodles and miso soup; there are leftovers in the fridge, but some of the cartons look like they’re about to sprout sentient mold, so he leaves that alone for his older self to deal with.

In between traps, he reads.

Icha Icha Paradise had been pretty good for the first twenty pages. A little florid, but that was Jiraiya all the way. Then the clothes started flying out the window and people got creative with their limbs.

“It’s about porn,” Kakashi confesses to Pakkun at night, more than a little mortified to be seen reading that book in the privacy of his own home. “Sex.”

“Yeah, I know,” Pakkun says, feigning disinterest but failing. He looks immensely happy for a tiny grumpy little pug. “You go around reading it in public,” he adds.

“No!” Kakashi flushes, cheeks burning a bright red.

Pakkun nods sagely. “Let’s face it kid, you turn into a total weirdo when you get older. It’s nothing but downhill from here.”

But he keeps going and in between the really long sex scenes in luxurious feather beds and shorter sex scenes in closets and erotic oil massages, there’s a good plot going on about pirates and samurai and people saving each other. It’s nice. And the sex stuff is very educational. Kakashi didn’t know that people could bend like that before.

Yamato and co. knock on the door every once in a while, leaving plates of food and anxious notes that Kakashi ignores. They try breaking in via his window but a hail of kunai keep them at bay, along with a particularly ingenious seal that emits an electric shock at touch. Kakashi spends nearly six hours copying and recopying the seal over and over again on sheets of scrap paper, marveling at the design.

It’s almost even fun, as long as he doesn’t think about why he’s there or why he doesn’t know about these traps and why he doesn’t ever leave the apartment.

On the third night, Pakkun sniffs reprovingly at Kakashi’s greasy hair (hygiene had fallen by the wayside when Kakashi found the giant book of Whirlpool style seals hidden in a cache underneath a kitchen floorboard) and gives him a look. “You need to get out of here,” he barks.

“Never,” Kakashi says absently, scratching his nose and accidentally smearing ink all over it. “I have books and food and dogs. Don’t need anything else.”

“You need human interaction,” Pakkun says firmly. “You’re not a dog and you’re not a mountain sage hermit. There are people out there who’re worried about you.”

“People,” Kakashi says scornfully. “Why would I want to talk to people when I can read about the prime subjunctive lemniscate of the Uzumaki Crescent Triad seal for controlling the tides.”

“Kid, that is exactly why you need to leave,” Pakkun growls. “Shower, eat food that can’t be made by adding hot water, go talk to your kids.”

“I don’t have kids.”

“Then what about the three idiots that tried to break in last night?”

“I have no idea who they are,” Kakashi says fiercely. “We are strangers.”

Pakkun gives him a gusty sigh. “You promised me.”

Kakashi looks down at his seals, ink splattered all over his sleeves and embedded deep in the grooves of his nails. The tertiary component of the triad seal was painstakingly copied out onto the rice paper beneath his fingers, bits and pieces accidentally written directly on the floor in some places. “One visit,” he says finally.

 


 

Kakashi and Angry Uchiha are forced to sit in the shade of a tree while Naruto and Sakura fight an exasperated Yamato, drinking electrolyte enhanced water that glows an unpleasant shade of neon green. It’s an uncomfortable silence, punctuated occasionally by Naruto’s shouting and the crack of shattered earth. Kakashi fights back the urge to pull up his forehead protector; using the Sharingan would only deplete his slowly recovering reserves and he needs every bit if he’s meant to spar with the silent figure he’s sitting next to.

He closes his eyes, slowly stretching his senses out to cover the entire field. Naruto feels like a burning bonfire of chakra, laced with the malevolent demon chakra; everyone else is a mere flicker in comparison, wavering candlelight next to a raging wildfire. Sakura’s chakra feels cool and hard, all sharp edges and control. It reminds him of Tsunade’s chakra signature; they both have the same contained feel. Yamato --or Tenzou or whatever his name really is-- puts him into mind the deep silence between the vast trees of the Shodai’s forest, heavy and powerful and a touch mysterious.

But it’s the Angry Uchiha next to him that Kakashi focuses on the most. His chakra signature is tiny, a faint guttering flame that Kakashi has to concentrate hard to get a read on. The faintest hint of ozone and fire before it’s gone; the Uchiha just seems like an ordinary civilian, chakra reserves undeveloped and too small to amount to anything. But if he feels like a civilian, he moves like a ninja, dark eyes flickering from the battlefield to Kakashi to the circling hawks above in the sky. Kakashi marks at least ten different hidden knives on him and suspects that the Uchiha pin on his collarbone doubles as a hidden dagger.

“If you’re going to stare at me, at least do it quietly.”

Kakashi tilts his head, meeting the Uchiha’s eyes squarely. “Your chakra is weird.”

Something in the other boy’s face tightens. “My punishment,” he says in a tense voice. “And my salvation.”

As Kakashi thought: weird. “Was it from a ninjutsu?”

The Uchiha gives him a long look, black eyes unreadable. “You really don’t know.”

“No,” Kakashi snaps at him. “Would I be asking if I did?”

The Uchiha’s pale face is inscrutable, shoulders tense and arms coiled to spring on a moment’s notice. If he had the chakra, Kakashi imagines that the entire field would have been flooded with killing intent. He makes a sudden jerking move and Kakashi draws back, instantly palming kunai in both hands.

The Uchiha gives him a wry smile (it looks strange on his face after a whole afternoon of thin-lipped frowns) and takes his shirt off.

Kakashi keeps his blades in hand.

“Look,” the Uchiha says, one scarred hand pointing at the flat expanse of his pale chest. A spark of chakra briefly flickers at the tip of a finger before he presses on the space right above his heart. Ink blooms into existence, seal arrays unfurling with dizzying speed until the Uchiha’s entire chest is covered in a beautiful kaleidoscope of seal characters, each stroke painted with a careful, almost breath-taking precision.

Kakashi drops his blades, caught off-guard by the magnificence of the seal. “Can I--?”

The Uchiha nods gravely and Kakashi comes closer, studying the core of the seal, which pulses in time to what Kakashi guesses to be the other boy’s heartbeat. “It’s suppressing your chakra,” Kakashi observes, an outstretched finger hovering over but not quite touching the array. “I can’t even imagine the months of work that went into this, I don’t even recognize half of the compositional elements used here. And this part--” Kakashi points at the Uzumaki spiral over Sasuke’s main chakra point in his abdomen.

“--looks like it’s the main reservoir for your chakra. There’s another array here that seems to slowly re-integrate your chakra over a period of time. I can’t figure out the parameters but it seems like you’ll have this on for a very long time.”

Kakashi draws back, blinking rapidly. “What did you do to necessitate something like this?”

“Betray the village,” the Angry Uchiha answers dryly. “And join Orochimaru.”

“That explains a lot,” Kakashi says.

The Uchiha simply snorts and pulls his shirt back on, seal already fading away into his skin.

“But you’re my student,” Kakashi says, a touch hesitantly.

“Yeah,” the Uchiha nods. “I mean we were in Team Seven together, you were our jounin-sensei when we were genin but we still-- you still--” He shrugs, apparently having used up his quota of words for the day.

“Did you-- betray us when you were my student?”

The Uchiha gives him a sharp look and doesn’t say anything.

“I see,” Kakashi says slowly but he doesn’t, not really. “I guess…I guess I wasn’t a really good sensei then.”

“Good enough to help Naruto and Sakura drag me home,” the Uchiha says quietly, picking up the kunai Kakashi had dropped on the floor. “Good enough to vouch for me to the Hokage.” He hands the knives over to Kakashi, handles first. “Good enough to fight against my execution and spend months researching a seal that ended up saving my life.”

Kakashi takes the kunai. He thinks of the beautiful web of seal characters painted on the Uchiha’s chest, each array painted with an unspeakable breath-taking precision. “I did that?”

“You did.”

Over in the training field, Sakura has Naruto in a headlock, green-glowing fist grinding into his head. Yamato watches on fondly from a safe distance, protected by a shield of coiled wood. Naruto scrabbles for leverage and manages to flip her over and slams her down onto the ground.

As if he has some strange sense for annoying emotional interactions, he raises his head and meets Kakashi’s eye straight on. “Kakashi-sensei!” he bellows, waving his hand.

Slowly, Kakashi raises his own hand up and waves back.

 


 

Ramen after training is, apparently, a thing.

Old man Ichiraku looks just as Kakashi remembers; maybe a little grayer around the temples, but his laugh is the same and his eyes are as bright as ever.

“Naruto-kun! I have your regular orders coming right up.”

The kids and Yamato fill up the entire stall, with Yamato discreetly conjuring up an extra stool for Sai in between Sakura and Kakashi. (“He had an appointment with the Hokage regarding her official portrait,” Sakura explains proudly.) A bowl of miso ramen is slammed down in front of him and Ichiraku gives him a wink.

“Here you go, Hatake-san. And what a nice illusion you have going there. Reminds me of when I first opened my shop nearly twenty years ago.”

“It’s just a joke,” Sakura adds hastily when Kakashi doesn’t respond to Ichiraku’s comment. “To make it look like sensei’s the same age as us.”

“Ha ha,” Kakashi says dryly. “Very funny. Great joke. Many laughs.”

“If you can bottle that up and sell it, you’ll make a fortune,” Ichiraku grins. “I know my wife would kill to have something like that.”

Kakashi snaps apart his chopsticks, suddenly aware of four very keen faces peering intently at him.

“What is it?” he mutters irritably. Creepy kids.

“Nothing, nothing,” Naruto says, whipping his head back at his third bowl of ramen.

Kakashi stirs the bowl of ramen with his chopsticks and again feels the curious gaze of four intent pairs of eyes. His finger traces the outline of his mask, ready to pull it down and the tension in the air ratchets up to the point where it becomes a little uncomfortable to breathe.

“Hello everyone. Yamato-taichou, did you make my seat?”

“Sai!” Naruto shouts. “Old man, one miso and pork for the creepy faced bastard.”

The dark haired boy from before (he’d called Kushina’s sweater questionable, he remembers a little grumpily) slides into the seat next to him, pulling out his own pair of wooden chopsticks from a sleeve.

“Did you already finish?” Sai asks politely.

Naruto and Sakura give him shocked looks; the Uchiha hides it a little better and Yamato rolls his eyes fondly. Kakashi grins behind his mask.

“It was okay,” he says serenely, placing his chopsticks in the empty bowl. “You came just at the right time, Sai.”

“So I did,” Sai says, giving him a small and genuine smile.

 


 

Kakashi discovers that Naruto has an intense love for scrapbooking that almost rivals his fanatical devotion to ramen and quest to become the Hokage.

“That’s you in the hospital, oh that’s you again in a hospital bed, and this is you passed out in a hospital couch after that mission to Sand and…”

Kakashi also discovers that his older self seems to be a permanent fixture of the hospital. Naruto has an entire scrapbook devoted to KAKASHI-SENSEI PASSED OUT BECAUSE OF REASONS BUT MOSTLY CHAKRA EXHAUSTION, decorated with stickers of dog bones and flying shuriken. His older self is big-- bigger than Kakashi had thought, and mostly sleepy-looking, though Kakashi can’t tell whether it’s the chakra exhaustion or merely his older self’s natural state.

In the back, there’s a picture of him with a bunch of the other jounin in front of a bar that he doesn’t know-- The Rusty Kunai. There’s Asuma, tall and thick as a tree trunk, with a cigarette planted firmly in his mouth and a beard full enough to make teenaged Asuma explode in envy. Kurenai, her face harder and hair wilder, arm around Asuma’s waist. Gai, who looks disturbingly the same, except taller and his smile, if possible, is even brighter than Kakashi remembers.

And there is his older self, in a flak vest and regular jounin blues, one hand tucked into his pocket and slouching. He’s holding up Icha Icha Paradise with the other hand, looking immensely bored with the world. Kakashi traces the messy spiky hair, a touch longer than he wears it now, the broad shoulders, the armor-backed ANBU gloves. He looks like Sakumo.

On the back of the photo, there’s a note scrawled on it, dating it from a couple of years ago. Gai congratulating the three new jounin-sensei.

“That’s you, Kakashi-sensei.”

He looks like someone Kakashi doesn’t know at all.

Naruto, catching the look on his face, hastily shuts the scrapbook and pulls another one out. “Hey, what about this one of our genin team?”

This one is mostly filled with the kids --even smaller than they are now-- running around in various states of disarray. The daimyo’s wife’s cat features prominently in a lot of them. There’s only bits of Kakashi in this book; he’s mostly a phantom figure in the background, reading porn and sending his genin off on D-ranked missions walking dogs and weeding gardens.

“And this is our team photo--” Naruto moves to flip quickly past the page, but Kakashi stops him with a finger.

It’s heartbreakingly familiar.

Obito for Naruto, little Kakashi for Sasuke, Rin for Sakura and Minato-sensei for his older self.

He looks happy.

“Well, yeah,” Sakura says, crossing her arms over her chest.

Kakashi starts a little; he didn’t realize he’d actually said it out loud.

“You loved making us miserable as our jounin-sensei,” she says, wrinkling her nose. “You always came late and you made up all these stupid excuses and talked about looking underneath the underneath and made us do the stupidest stuff.” But then she smiles, more than a little fondly. “You drove us crazy.”

Love, Kakashi thinks, studying his older self’s curved eye, the hands ruffling Naruto and Sasuke’s hair, the faint smile hidden behind the black mask.

 


 

Team Seven takes Kakashi’s grudging training session with them as a sign and barge into his life at every inopportune moment. They badger him about seals (well, Sakura and Sai do, and Kakashi spends an entire hour talking to them about chakra stabilization seals for medical and field usage before he realizes that they’re not terrible company) and make him eat vegetables (Naruto crows something about karmic payback) and drag him outside into the glaring light of day to train.

Pakkun falls asleep when Kakashi tries to tell him about his theory that Yamato has a deep-seated grudge against older Kakashi, because he makes Kakashi pay for all of his meals when they finish training together, muttering something about “milking this while it lasts.”

They’re alright, Kakashi supposes, in between whirlwind days of training and seal practice with Sakura and and nights full of memorizing the new stars on his apartment rooftop. Naruto still messes up and calls him Kakashi-sensei more often than not but Kakashi finds that he doesn’t really mind anymore.

He stops correcting Naruto sometime at the end of the week.

One night, lying back on the rooftop, Kakashi is tracing the unfamiliar lines of the stars, constellations shifting and changing in the sixteen years since he’s grown up. Yamato is sitting by the roof vent pipe, whittling idly at a piece of wood. Sasuke is hopefully extinguishing the fires Sakura will inevitably set while making dinner, Sai already negotiating with Naruto over the takeout menu, having surmised that dinner will again be a charbroiled mess.

It’s nice.

Kakashi curls up on his left side, fingers digging into the cement rooftop, feeling the whispers of thousands of chakra signatures against his fingertips, from thousands of flying ninja feet passing over his rooftop.

“What if I never change back?”

Kakashi can hear Yamato’s knife still. “What do you mean?” he asks carefully.

“I mean, what if you never get your Kakashi back and I’m stuck like this, as a fourteen year old boy forever.”

“The Hokage has her best sealing masters working on this problem, Kakashi. I wouldn’t be discouraged by the lack of notice--”

What if.”

There’s a pause and a rustle of fabric. Yamato’s voice sounds much closer now, his chakra signature washing over Kakashi’s body. “I think we’ll miss him,” Yamato says quietly. “But we’ll also have you.”

It only takes a touch of chakra to enhance his hearing and he can hear Sakura’s frustrated shouting now, Sasuke grimly barking at her to stand back, he’s got the fire extinguisher ready and Naruto laughing hysterically in the background, Sai sniping at Sakura about her newly discovered fire affinity.

They’re no replacement for a dead sensei and a genin team remembered only by their weathered names on the Stone. Kakashi thinks back to his lonely room in the ANBU barracks, stacks of mission paperwork to be filled out and daily visits to the Stone only interrupted by the growing number of assassination assignments.

They’re something new, something that fills the aching hole Kakashi feels deep inside of him.

Is it possible to be jealous of yourself?, Kakashi silently asks the strange stars above him.

 


 

The notice comes at first light, brought by a hawk with the seal of the Hokage branded on its dark wings.

Come in two hours.

It’s not signed, but that seems to be the new Hokage’s style. Kakashi sets it alight with the tip of his finger and scatters the ashes on his windowsill. Now that the moment’s finally come, he’s not quite sure how to feel.

Pakkun bites Kakashi’s hand, teeth digging in hard enough to break skin.

“Pull yourself together, brat.”

Kakashi shakes his hand free, giving Pakkun a sharp glare. “I’m fine,” he says, a touch acerbically.

“You’ve gone whiter than an Uchiha,” Pakkun observes. “What did the message say?”

“Princess Tsu-- the Hokage says it’s ready,” Kakashi says, frowning. “I’m to-- to call on the Tower in two hours.”

“Is there anything you want me to do?”

Kakashi, sucking on the bleeding bite on his hand, almost dismisses Pakkun but something deep inside of him stops him from releasing the tenuous bond of chakra that keeps his ninken on the mortal plane. He swallows, tasting the salt and copper of his blood.

“Can you let them know?” he asks quietly. “Later, when it’s time.”

“You got it,” Pakkun grunts and he climbs into Kakashi’s lap, letting Kakashi scratch his ears. They watch the sunrise together for the last time.

 


 

Kakashi sits naked in the center of a vast surgical theater, seals sprawling out all over the floor and even up into the walls. He can feel chakra seals for health and recovery embedded into the very material that makes up the hospital, giving a boost to his chakra reservoirs. Everything is clearer, sharper, a little more in focus.

“Are you ready, Kakashi-kun?”

Kakashi tilts his head, Tsunade standing in front of him in a set of interlocking seals that will channel her chakra, powering the immense array covering the room. No wonder it had taken weeks for them to set up the room, Kakashi can't even begin to comprehend the sprawling characters that filled up every spare inch of the floor.

“You have to be a willing participant for this to work. Any last minute concerns or questions?”

“Is it like dying?”

Tsunade blinks and then gives him a short laugh. “You and your damned questions, Hatake.”

Kakashi sits cross-legged, chakra circulating so he doesn’t feel the chill as much as he should. “Is it?”

“I don’t know,” Tsunade says honestly, looking at him straight in the eye. “But you realize that all of this-- you, your memory loss, the way your body looks right now. It’s all an illusion. You’re really thirty years old inside.” She taps her expansive chest in demonstration.

“I don’t feel like it,” Kakashi says. “I don’t feel like that at all.”

“None of us really do,” Tsunade says. “We just make it all up as we go along.”

Kakashi swallows his fear and breathes in deeply. “Alright. Let’s do it.” He lies back down flat on his back like one of the medic-nin had told him, slowing down his chakra as much as possible, willing every muscle in his body to relax. “It’ll be less painful that way,” she’d told him, gently.

He thinks of Pakkun and the sunrise. He thinks of Yamato and the strange stars here in Konoha. He thinks about the five looming faces on the Mountain, about the Stone full of names. He thinks about the apartment full of flak vests and a potted plant that refuses to die. He thinks about miso ramen and masks. Mostly, he thinks about Team Seven. Their laughter, the pranks, their bright, luminous faces. He wonders what made them love him so much.

Sensei, Kakashi drowsily thinks before everything fades into black.

 


 

Kakashi wakes up to the smell of antiseptic and death, eye cracked open slightly. The light sends shooting pains in his head, thunderbolts ricocheting violently in the tiny confines of his skull and violently reminding his stomach that he needs a bucket now. It takes all of his strength to roll over onto his side-- he’s survived through a couple of wars and a genin team, it would only be sad and pathetic if he ended up dying by choking on his own vomit at his old age.

“Easy there--”

A pair of strong hands hoists him up easily and a bin is quickly shoved into his lap. Kakashi pulls down the surgical mask on his face and vomits up mostly water and bile that sears his throat. He trusts her to look away while his face is uncovered. He waits a moment after the last dry heave before pulling the mask back up.

The light isn’t as blinding now and he rubs his eye, clearing the last bits of gunk. When he blinks, the wavering lines straighten and the walls of a hospital room come into sharp focus, yellow paint bleached by the long exposure to the sun. Kakashi blinks again, taking into account the familiar hospital room he’s lying in, the cot with HATAKE KAKASHI scrawled on the side bar, the cheerful non-regulation walls painted by an enterprising genin team, the well-worn linoleum tiles.

“Are you thirsty Kakashi-san?”

Kakshi turns to the side, watching the medic who is binning the basin in a biohazard container, snapping her gloves off in a smooth and practiced manner.

“Yes,” Kakashi says, voice rough and cracking.

She looks at him a little apprehensively, squeezing hand sanitizer into her hand. “Sorry, but since water will just make you throw up more, we’re just going to have stick with ice chips and saline bags for now. And only if you behave.”

“I’m the perfect picture of innocence, Sakura-chan,” Kakashi says mock-seriously. “And what’s with the Kakashi-san, I thought I was your sensei--”

Sakura throws herself at his chest, bursting into tears. “Sensei!” she wails, soaking the front of his hospital gown.

“Erm,” Kakashi says.

Sakura flares her chakra and in an instant, Naruto and Sasuke hurtle through the hospital door, probably throwing the hinges out of warp. Again. For the fifth time. This month. Kakashi holds back a sigh.

“SENSEI!” Naruto bellows and jumps into Kakashi’s bed, shedding ninja sandals mid-dive. “We missed you so much sensei your fourteen year old self was a total brat don’t ever do that again to us even though it was a lot of fun you also broke my ribs and--”

Kakashi looks helplessly at Sasuke over his two full-grown students clutching at his hospital gown and crying.

Sasuke merely shrugs and sits on the edge of Kakashi’s bed, dark eyes quietly amused. “Welcome home sensei,” he says, one hand pressed against Kakashi’s ankle, as if to reassure himself that he's still there.

Kakashi gently curls his arms around his students and smiles, wide enough that even the surgical mask can’t quite hide it. “It’s good to be back.”